Match Thread: Portland Timbers @ Columbus Crew [5:00 PM]

PORTLAND, OR - MAY 21: Eddie Gaven #12 of the Columbus Crew grabs ahold of Kalif Alhassan #11 of the Portland Timbers as Emilio Renteria #20 of the Columbus Crew closes in during the first half of the game at PGE Park on May 21, 2011 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Second road game in a row and a second chance for the guys to prove they can win when they're away from home. Unfortunately, this week's opponent isn't nearly as weak as the Chicago Fire were last weekend. The Columbus Crew, despite not having any big name players, is still third in the Eastern Conference with a 7-6-7 win-loss-draw history for the season.

Despite this, however, in their last five games the Crew haven't been overly impressive which means they could be on the down swing. The Timbers, on the other hand, will hopefully be looking to take advantage of their win against Chicago to win another much needed away game. It's definitely not going to be an easy game, but perhaps this is just the sort of thing the guys need to get back to their winning ways.

Let's check out the teams.

Assessing Our Team

The big news from the middle of the week is the trade with the Houston Dynamo which saw allocation money and Adam Moffat go to Houston in exchange for Lovel Palmer, Mike Chabala and an international roster spot. Both Chabala and Palmer can play in the right back, although Palmer is probably set for the defensive midfield position. Given that both Jeremy Hall and Steve Purdy played against West Bromwich Albion, I'm inclined to believe that Chabala will be taking that right back position.

The big question mark for tonight is whether we'll see Lovel Palmer take over James Marcelin's position in the midfield should head coach John Spencer opt, once again, for the 4-5-1 position. Two weeks ago it might have been an easy answer, but with Marcelin impressing in recent games I'm not sure it makes sense to throw Palmer in right away. In fact, I'd be pretty surprised if we did saw him in the game at all tonight.

Aside from that I expect most other positions to largely remain unchanged. Eric Brunner should return to his normal position after receiving the red card against the Seattle Sounders. It'll also be somewhat of a homecoming for Brunner as he plays against his former team in Ohio, where he was born.

Kenny Cooper is likely to come off the bench as usual. While I would say he's been playing impressively out wide the current 4-5-1 formation is working too well, and just doesn't fit his current play style.

Here's my projected starting line up:

Troy Perkins; Rodney Wallace, Futty Danso, Eric Brunner, Mike Chabala; Kalif Alhassan, Jack Jewsbury (c), James Marcelin, Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe; Jorge Perlaza

Assessing the Enemy

There are always two big guys you have to talk about when discussing the Columbus Crew, players who, given their performance can either make or break the team. I am, of course talking about Defender Chad Marshall and Midfielder Eddie Gaven.

Playing in the back Marshall takes a commanding lead of his defensive backline. He's a rock back there and one of Columbus' most stalwart defenders. Being paired up with Julius James makes the defensive backline all the more imposing to break down.

Eddie Gaven, on the other hand, is one of the team's best midfielders providing excellent service to strikers such as Andres Mendoza (7 goals) and Emilio Renteria (4 goals). He has two goals himself for the season.

The thing I can't quite figure out about Columbus right now is that, despite Mendoza having seven goals for the season and playing well over 1000 minutes thus far for the season, I can't find a single Columbus Crew line up prediction that has him in for the game despite him not being suspended for yellow or red cards or being on the injured list at all. I would assume he would be playing, but he's not listed anywhere.

Here's Columbus' predicted starting line up:

William Hesmer; Josh Gardner, Julius James, Chad Marshall, Sebastian Miranda; Eric Gehrig, Robbie Rogers, Emmanuel Ekpo, Eddie Gaven; Tommy Heinemman, Bernardo Anor

Final Thoughts

On paper I don't see where Columbus can really trump the Portland Timbers, at least not if they stick with their more defensively minded 4-5-1 formation. Yes, the Timbers don't score as much when they play like that but they're also better at keeping the ball out of the final third as last weekend proved.

The biggest hurdle for today's game will be consistency throughout the match. For some reason almost every game the Timbers just seem to fall apart in the 70th-ish minute and allow one, two or even three goals. It's always a huge letdown, especially when the guys have been playing really well up until that point. Maintaining any lead they get will go a long way in securing a play-off spot this Autumn.

--

Tonight's match is at 5:00 PM on Fox12.

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